I’ll be there for you…and us: perceptions of support in romantic attachment relationships

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University of New Brunswick


The ability to connect with, and rely on, important others for support when needed is associated with many benefits (Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2009; Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). Insecurely attached individuals tend to have difficulty connecting with others in a way that meets their attachment needs, resulting in lower levels of relationship satisfaction and overall well-being. Previous research suggests that working models of attachment influence the way in which individuals perceive and process social information (Collins, 1996), with insecurely attached individuals being more likely to misinterpret expressions of support from a partner. The current research program examined patterns of supportive communication in more detail, focusing on how biases in existing working models of attachment shape the way support is perceived and processed. Gathering data from 195 participants, Study 1 investigated the influence of focused attention and pronoun use on the processing of an emotionally supportive message. It was hypothesized that both pronoun use (i.e., independent vs. interdependent wording) and the way a supportive message was processed (i.e., natural processing vs. directed focus) would influence the relationship between attachment and well-being. Results revealed that neither processing style nor the interaction of processing style and pronoun use moderated the relationship between attachment and relationship satisfaction or subjective well-being. Pronoun use emerged as a significant moderator of the relationship between attachment anxiety and some aspects of subjective well-being. By encouraging 136 participants to reflect on a personally relevant example of social support, Study 2 explored how actively reflecting on and processing thoughts, feelings, and reactions to social support influenced the relationship between attachment and well-being. As was the case in Study 1, the way support was processed did not moderate the relationship between attachment and relationship satisfaction or subjective well-being. Taken together, results suggest that pronoun use may matter in certain support situations; however, the belief that emotional support will be available from a romantic partner may be more important to overall well-being than the specifics of what is said or how support is processed. Results are explored in the context of the current literature; theoretical and clinical implications are discussed.